Most archives don’t turn a profit, and many of them are looking for deals with commercial firms that can allow them to keep the lights on, and to serve some footage. Unfortunately, non-profits are often at a disadvantage in their negotiations with for profit firms.
The Smithsonian’s new agreement with Showtime is a case in point. From the New York Times:
Under the agreement, the joint venture has the right of first refusal to commercial documentaries that rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff. Those works would first have to be offered to Smithsonian on Demand, the cable channel that is expected to be the venture’s first programming service.
A Smithsonian official who is managing the institution’s content and production assistance for the venture said yesterday that while the new arrangement did limit the ability of commercial filmmakers to sell some projects elsewhere, it ultimately would affect a small number of the works that draw on the museum’s resources.
“It’s not our obligation to help independent filmmakers sell their wares to commercial broadcast and cable networks,” said the official, Jeanny Kim, a vice president for media services for Smithsonian Business Ventures.
“What it boiled down to is that we don’t have the financial resources, the expertise or the production capabilities,” she added, to continue to provide extensive access to materials but not to reap any financial benefit from the result.
It’s been obvious for a long time now that archivists need to work together to develop a set of standards and guidelines for effective negotiations with commercial firms. Development of that guide needs to be funded by a non-commercial entity — anyone out there listening?